Taiwan Culture Shock
That is New to Me
By Troy Clarke
I have written previously about how I ended up in Taiwan. You can read about that story HERE. This article picks up where the aforementioned one ended.
I would like to begin this article by stating that these experiences in Taiwan were over twenty years ago. Like most countries, Taiwan has changed a lot in that time. Taiwan is now a modern developed country with services and amenities similar to that of most other developed countries.
It was my first full day in Taiwan, and I was excited to go out and explore my new surroundings. I woke up hungry and decided that an authentic brunch would be a good start. My friend Brendan and I walked for a few minutes to the local marketplace. I had never been to a Taiwanese wet market before, and it was an experience. There were vendors of every kind. From old women selling detergent to young men selling live chickens. We made our way to a restaurant stall and sat down at a table on the street in front of the business. It was very late morning, and most vendors were packing up their wares around us, but we still had time to eat. Naively, I told Brendan that I would have whatever he was having. Our meal arrived in no time, but it was not what I had expected. My understanding of Chinese food had come from my experiences at the local Chinese take aways in Australia. Brunch today was not going to be lemon chicken or beef and black bean sauce. Our meal was fish congee, fried bread, and soy milk. I ate as much as I could force down to be polite, but I left the market feeling queasy and picking out fish bones from my teeth.
Brendan had planned an outing with friends for the afternoon. Three of his friends soon arrived to meet the exotic white guy. They were very friendly and could speak some English. Five of us piled into the car and we headed off to Costco. I remember thinking that I had never seen people so excited to go to a supermarket before. We arrived at Costco, and it was just like any other supermarket I had been to. I did not understand why they had thought that it was so special until later. The guys were
stocking up on a variety of different products, but I did not make any purchases. I did not see the point of buying anything until I had my own apartment, and I was still feeling queasy from brunch. After shopping we sat down in the food court to have a slice of pepperoni pizza. While we ate, one of the lads opened a bottle of whiskey that he had bought and began to share it around the table. That was a nice surprise that would certainly not be allowed in Australia.
It was only later that I discovered that Costco was the only place in Kaohsiung at that time that stocked common western food. Products such as cheese, coffee and salami were almost impossible to find elsewhere.
Most Taiwanese avoid going out in the unforgiving daytime summer heat. People tend to venture out in the evenings when it is cooler. After returning from Costco, we escaped the afternoon heat by lounging about the air-conditioned house, chatting and playing cards. Once the Sun had gone down, we went out to see a movie. The film was in English, but I cannot recall what it was called. However, what I do remember was a totally new cinema experience. Before heading into the movie theater, we stopped off enroute to get some supplies. First, was to get a box of Taiwanese style fried chicken, next was to pick up a few cans of beer. Now we were ready to watch the movie. The theater was tucked down a back alley away from the main street. The seats were adequate, and the movie quality was fine. It was great to drink beer and eat fried chicken while watching a movie at the cinema. This was a first for me, however there was another element to add to the experience. A few minutes into the film, Brendan lit up a cigarette, yes, you could smoke there too. It was a unique experience that I will never forget.
My first day in Taiwan had proved to be eye opening. Everything was new and interesting. I began to realize that I still had a lot to learn if I was to really understand Taiwan better. This experience was going to be life changing for me.